FOR a man who has soared on eagle’s wings, figuratively speaking, to turn Malaysia Airlines around, it is amazing that Idris Jala’s picture of the perfect moment is this: “Once I went fishing (on) Vancouver Island. The skyline was beautiful and we caught fish and ate it with wine. That was such a perfect moment. And I thought, that would be such a perfect way to die!” (‘The art of the impossible, StarBizWeek, Jan 10)
All of us who have gone fishing can identify with such imagery. Solitude, postcard scenery, and then the tug on the line.
Growing up on an island, a fishing spot was never too far away. But my most memorable fishing moments were at the bridge we fondly referred to as the “Sewer Bridge” of Jelutong, within walking distance from my house.
The exposed sewerage pipe ran from the treatment plant along this bridge before discharging its content about 500m from the shoreline.
In my growing-up years, we still had the bucket system in my house and we all knew where everything eventually went.
Somehow, in the innocence of those years, before the Consumers Association of Penang started taking water samples and warning us how contaminated the waters were, this was like a fishing paradise.
My dad and I spent many wonderful moments on that bridge. By then it was a hobby, although my dad would often remind us that before we were born, fishing from these very same waters was not so much about fun but about providing food for the table.
We had to catch our own worms or mudskippers earlier in the day for our evening fishing.
We did not have the money to buy fancy rods and reels and most times, we just had fishing lines wrapped around milk tins or Milo tins. Even the weights were self-made at home.
In many ways, even before the recyling craze hit us, we were recycling a lot of things. Nothing ever went to waste.
I learnt the importance of being prepared and being hands-on. These are lessons that would come in useful when you start work or eventually become a manager of sorts.
I am sure even CEOs know the importance of leading by example, and that the staff they control are always watching to match their words with their deeds.
We were careful which side of the bridge we were on so that the wind blew away the smell in the other direction. My dad once told me that in life, we can be in the company of people who are not so nice, but we can choose to also see the good in them no matter what.
We also learnt to be still and to appreciate the solitude of the place.
Now isn’t that what life is all about, that even if it stinks at times, we can still learn to count our blessings?
Our fishing experiences got more exciting when we finally got our own sampan. We learnt how to row with the tide, where to drop anchor, and where to head when storms approach.
Idris Jala was at The Star recently to give a talk on the MAS turnaround story and he alluded to where one must drop the anchor – always on rock and never on sand.
When we look at pictures of houses that collapsed due to landslides, we can see that the ones most vulnerable are those built not on solid bedrock but on shifting sands.
Anchoring on sand is of no use as the boat will just move on with the tide.
Today, whatever the upheavals in the economy, the MAS CEO surely has many fishing lessons that he can draw from.
Let me end with this email story about an investment banker and the fisherman.
An investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.
Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna.
The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”
The banker then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”
The fisherman said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.”
The banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, go for walks with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends. As you can see, I have a full and busy life.”
The banker scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat! With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats.
“Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.
“You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to the capital city. After that, who knows, maybe you could take on the world!”
The fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the banker replied, “I’d say about 15 to 20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the fisherman.
The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”
“Millions?…Then what?” the fisherman continued prodding.
The banker said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, go for romantic walks with your wife, and in the evenings you could sip wine, play guitar and sing songs with your friends!”
To which the fisherman mused, “Now, isn’t that strange? Isn’t that what I’m doing now?”
Reading Idris Jala’s story, I am happy that despite the busyness of corporate life, he still goes fishing, plays the guitar, and takes a sip of wine now and then.
Surely, he must be in the right job right now.
● Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin wonders if he will ever be able to catch trout in New Zealand amidst the Lord of the Rings landscape.
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